Monday 11th of December 2023
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Third Lecture
The Imam’s specific traits

Before we delve into the subject, one point should be explicitly stated: It can be easily understood from the Holy Qur’¡n that the position of imamate is the most prestigious position for a person to have. It is even higher than that of prophethood. This is because in the story of Abraham, the idol-destroyer Prophet(s), the Qur’¡n states:

وَإِذِ ابْتَلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَاماً قَالَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي قَالَ لاَ يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ.

And when his Lord tried Abraham with certain words, he fulfilled them. He said: Surely, I will make you an Imam of men. Abraham said: And of my offspring? My covenant does not include the unjust, said He. [Qur’¡n 2:124]

In this way, having fulfilled the position of prophethood (nubuwwah) and messengership (ris¡lah) and having passed different tests, Abraham attained the rank of having the material and spiritual leadership of the people.

Besides having the positions of nubuwwah and ris¡lah, the Prophet of Islam enjoyed the position of Imamate and the leadership of the people. Other prophets also enjoyed such a position.

On the other hand, the qualifications necessary for any social or religious position vary for different positions. The higher the position, the heavier one’s tasks and obligations would be.

For instance, one who fills the positions of a judge, witness or a Friday Imam should be just. When such a heavy set of qualifications are necessary for a judge, we could only imagine how heavy the qualifications of a Prophet must be.

The following are among the characteristics of an Imam:

1. Infallibility or Sinlessness

An Imam, like the Prophet, should be immune from commenting sins, or else he could not occupy such a demanding position and enjoy the confidence of the society.

An Imam should capture the people’s hearts and his commands should be acceptable to all without question. One who has indulged in sins could never have such a position and could never be trusted by the community.

One who commits errors in his daily affairs could never be relied on in communal affairs. No doubt, a Prophet should be infallible, but such a condition is necessary for an Imam as well.

Such a proposition could still be verified in another way: “The Rule of Benevolence” upon which the existence of both the Prophet and Imam rely, implies such an attribute (i.e. infallibility). This is because the Prophet and the Imam’s objectives could not be carried out without their having the attribute of infallibility.

2. Having Great Knowledge

Like a Prophet, the Imam is the source of knowledge for the people. He should have a thorough knowledge of the major and minor principles of Islam, of the Holy Qur’¡n, of the Prophet’s tradition, and of what is related to Islam in general; this is because he is both the protector of the Shariah and the leader of the nation.

Those who become worried over complex issues, or resort to others for minor things, or whose knowledge is not sufficient, would never be eligible for the leadership of mankind.

In sum, the Imam should be the most knowledgeable and the wisest man about God’s rules. He should be able to fill the gap after the death of the Prophet and put Islam into practice with no deviations whatsoever.

3. Bravery

The Imam should be the bravest individual in Islamic society. This is because, without bravery, leadership cannot exist: bravery in the face of severe accidents, against the tyrants and the unjust, and bravery in the face of both the internal and external enemies of the Islamic nation.

4. Piety and Austerity

We know well that those who have fallen in love with the superficial, material things of this world are very easily deceived and the chance of their going astray is very high.

Concerning the good things of this world, the Imam should be a prince and not a captive. He should be free from all sorts of worldly shackles, free from the chains of selfishness, free from wealth, and worldly considerations. He should be the one who cannot be deceived, or influenced.

5. Ethical Attractiveness

Regarding the Prophet(s), the Holy Qur’¡n says:

فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظّاً غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لاَنفَضُّواْ مِنْ حَوْلِكَ.

Thus, it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hardhearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you. [Qur’¡n 3:159]

Not only should the Prophet(s) but the Imam or any social leader as well should possess an attractive disposition and temper.

No doubt, it would be disadvantageous for the Prophet or Imam to be ill-tempered. However, they are free from such shortcomings.

These are the main characteristics which the great Sh¢`ah scholars have postulated for the Imam. However, the Imam should have other distinctive traits to which we shall not refer here.


Why is Imamate man’s highest position?

Did the Prophet of Islam and other major prophets hold the position of Imam?

If the Imam was not infallible, what sorts of problems would be created?

Why should the Imam command a high degree of knowledge?

For what reasons should the Imam be the bravest, the most pious, the most upright and the most ethically and attractive person?

Fourth Lecture
Who has the Responsibility to Appoint the Imam?

The Sunnis contend that when the Prophet of Islam(s) died he did not appoint a successor and he left the responsibility of appointing a successor upon the shoulders of the Muslims.

According to the Sunnis, this was done and the first caliph was appointed. The first caliph then appointed the second caliph for the Muslims. And subsequently, the second caliph appointed a council of six persons to appoint his successor.

This council was composed of `Al¢ (s), `Uthm¡n, `Abd al-Ra¦m¡n Ibn `Awf, ±al¦ah, Zubayr, and Sa`d Ibn Ab¢-Waqq¡¥.

This council, with the majority of three persons, i.e. Sa`d Ibn Ab¢-Waqq¡¥, `Abd al-Ra¦m¡n and ±al¦ah, appointed `Uthm¡n as the third Caliph (The second caliph had emphasized if there was a vote three, three, the winner would be the side that included `Abd al-Ra¦m¡n Ibn `Awf, `Uthm¡n’s son-in-law).

Towards the end of `Uthm¡n’s reign, people rose up against him and he was killed without having appointed a successor.

At this time all the Muslims gathered around `Al¢(s) and swore allegiance to him as the successor to the Prophet(s) except for Mu`¡wiyah, who was the governor of Syria at the time and was well aware that `Al¢(s) would depose him of his post.

Mu`¡wiyah rose up against `Al¢(s) and brought forth deadly events in the history of Islam, causing the shedding of innocent blood.

In order to clarify some of the historic issues here we shall raise some questions:

Could the Muslim community appoint the Prophet’s successor?

The answer to this question would be straightforward if we defined Imamate as the mere leadership of the Muslim community. Under such conditions, the successor would be appointed through the votes of the people.

However, if we defined Imamate under the conditions we have discussed so far, based on the Holy Qur’¡n, then nobody except God or the Prophet(s) could appoint either the Imam or the caliph.

In accordance with our interpretation of Imamate, the Imam should have complete knowledge of the major and minor principles of Islam. The Imam’s knowledge should stem from heavenly sources and should be based on the Prophet’s knowledge so that the Islamic Shariah could be protected.

Another condition for an Imam is for him to be sinless and infallible, i.e., he should be free from all sins so that he could fulfill the material, and spiritual leadership of his Ummah. Other traits he should possess are piety, avoiding sins, and courage.

The recognition and verification of such traits could only be done through either God or His Prophet. He is the one who knows who is genuinely pious and who could carry out such immense duties.

Those who relegated the task of appointing the Imam and caliph to the people have changed the Qur’¡nic concept of Imamate on purpose and see in an Imam only the manager of people’s worldly affairs. From the other point of view, the appointment of an Imam could only be carried out by God. It is He Who is aware of the necessary traits in an Imam. The idea of relegating the appointment of the Imam to the people looks similar to the idea of appointing the Prophet by the common votes of the people. A Prophet is appointed by God and we know the Prophet through his miracles.

1. Did not the Prophet Appoint a Successor?

No doubt, Islam is a universal and eternal school and in accordance with the explicit verses of the Holy Qur’¡n, Islam is not specific to a special location or time.

It is also a fact that at the time of the Prophet’s death, Islam had not passed beyond the Arabia Peninsula.

Thirteen years of the Prophet’s life was spent in Mecca confronting blasphemy and idolatry. Still another ten years of his honorable life was spent in Holy wars and combating the imposed wars of enemies.

Although, the Prophet(s) spent his days and nights spreading Islamic principles and introducing it in all its dimensions, the analysis of many Islamic questions needed a prolonged period of time and a person similar to the Prophet (s) to carry out such a huge responsibility.

Beside these issues, the future of Islam and the provision for its continuity are among the most significant issues crucial for any religious leader, which he could never postpone.

Furthermore, the Prophet of Islam(s) had taken into consideration even the simplest issues of Islam. Why shouldn’t he have worked out a schedule for the Imamate?

All these points lead us to believe that the Prophet(s) had considered the appointment of a successor. Later in our discussion, I shall present you with some Islamic narrations that will shed light on the issue. These records irrevocably show that the Prophet had never stopped thinking of such a great issue all his life. However, after his death, there were some people who tried to accuse him of not having appointed a successor.

The Prophet(s) used to appoint a temporary successor whenever he left Medina to take part in a holy war (such as the war of Tab£k). How could we believe that he might not have appointed a successor to continue his tasks after his demise? How could he have left his nation surrounded by all sorts of political and social death? How could he have not thought out the best methods for the continuation of Islam?

It would have definitely been a great hazard for the newly founded Islam not to have a successor.

Our reasoning leads us to the fact that the Prophet had been mindful of such a crucial issue.

Those who claim that the Prophet had let people select their Imam through unanimous vote should present us with a record in which the Prophet had recommended such an action, however, they lack such records.

2. Consensus and Consultation

Let us assume that the Prophet(s) had not deliberated on this issue and that the people were supposed to elect the successor through unanimous vote or consensus which means the participation of all Muslims on this issue. However, such consensus never occurred with respect to the appointment of the first Muslim caliph. Only a selected group of the Prophet’s followers who lived in Medina decided on the issue. None of the Muslims living in the cities or towns had a chance to take part in this vote. Even in the city of Medina, `Al¢(s) and a large group of Ban¢-H¡shim did not take part in this decision making process. Therefore, such a vote did not reflect the consensus of the Muslims.

Besides, if this approach was valid, why did the first caliph select his own successor himself, and did not let him be elected? If there were only one person meritorious enough to carry out such a crucial task, the Prophet himself would be the only eligible person to do so.

Then there is a third problem concerning the third caliph. Why did the second caliph put aside the method by which he had been appointed? Why did he put aside the tradition by which he himself had been appointed? That is to say, he neither observed the process of consensus or personal appointment; rather, he put this responsibility on the shoulders of a select few.

Principally, if consultation had been the right way, why should only six persons take part? Why should have the votes of three out of six been accepted?

These are the questions raised by any researcher in the history of Islam, and the lack of proper answers to these questions is indicative of the fact that the way which was chosen was not the right one.

3. `Al¢ (s) had the Greatest Merit for the Imamate

Let us assume that the Prophet(s) had not introduced anybody as his successor and let us assume as well that this responsibility was placed upon the people. Would it have been possible to elect somebody superior to `Al¢ (s) in piety and knowledge?

A large group of Islamic researchers, including some Sunni elites, have explicitly indicated that `Al¢(s) was more knowledgeable on Islamic issues than anybody else and the narrations and records that go back to him are indicative of such a reality. The history of Islam says he was a resource for the Muslim nation in their intellectual questions. Even the other caliphs used to ask `Al¢(s) for answers when they were confronted with some intractable questions.

He was superior to everyone in bravery, courage, piety and other distinguished human traits. Now, if we accept the fact that the people had to elect the Prophet’s successor, `Al¢ (s) should have been the best candidate for such a position since he was the most worthy.([1])


Why cannot people appoint Imams and Caliphs?

Does not reasoning point to the fact that the Prophet(s) had selected a successor?

What was the procedure for the appointment of the first three caliphs?

Were their approaches to selection based on scientific and Islamic considerations?

Why was `Al¢(s) the most qualified individual?

([1]) For these issues we have lots of documents available. However, we lack the space to introduce them here.

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